It’s no secret that Italy is one of my favourite places in the world, after the National Parks of America. I love the weather, the romanticism, the food, the more laid-back way of life, the culture and, of course, the history. As a Classics and Latin graduate, I’ve spent a lot of my life learning about Ancient Italy and the Roman empire, so I love anything even somewhat related to that.
A few years ago, I visited Tuscany with my family and fell in love with the area. We stayed in a rented farmhouse in the countryside that was absolutely stunning. It overlooked the rolling hills of the area, with tiny hilltop villages dotted amongst them. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, I’d highly recommend that you rent a villa in Tuscany. It gives you the freedom to explore the local area without being too tied down, while also experiencing the “good life” and rustic charm that is Italy.
But what should you do for your time in Tuscany? I’ve got a few tips:
You can’t go to Tuscany without experiencing the local food. Of course Italy is known for its pizzas and pastas, but head further afield or branch out from your usual on the menu and you’ll find some fantastic options you might not otherwise think to try.
My top tip is to head away from the tourist centres and restaurants that advertise menus to tourists. Instead, pick out one of those tiny hilltop villages and seek out a local eatery there. On our trip to Tuscany, we ended up going back twice to a restaurant we discovered that was spilling over with locals and no other English people. We approached it through a cobbled winding road amongst the narrow buildings where it opened out into a square. We were watched somewhat cautiously by elderly gentlemen watching the sun set and the evening go by on the wall opposite as we pulled up and entered the restaurant. They served fantastic local food – authentic crisp-based pizza made in a super hot, wood fired oven; pasta in fresh, light sauces; tender meat with vegetables in rich sauces.
I actually haven’t personally been Florence, but it’s somewhere I’ve always dreamed of visiting and is high on everyone’s wishlists, being the largest city in Tuscany, but also absolutely packed with history and culture.
If you’re into art and want to escape some of the midday heat, the Uffizi Gallery is highly recommended. If you’d prefer to visit the shops, Florence is known as one of the most fashionable cities in Europe – Via d’ Tornabuoni is renowned for its designer boutiques, or head to San Lorenzo Market for a more authentic bustling market experience or simply to pick up a few souvenirs.
Florence has also been recently ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world thanks to its stunning architecture, so even if you don’t have a specific destination in mind for Florence, wandering the ancient streets will have you filled with wonder.
It wouldn’t be a list on travel in Italy from me without at least some reference to Roman ruins!
While most people head to Pisa to see the frankly rather remarkable leaning tower, I’m going to recommend something different in Pisa: the Baths of Nero. This archaeological site is the only Roman remains still standing in Pisa, albeit at below street level now, and form a thermae complex. I’ve always been fascinated with these as they were a pretty ingenious invention from the Romans considering how they managed the water systems to have hot and cold rooms so long ago. I think Roman bathing complexes are always worth a visit!
For Roman ruins with a pretty spectacular view, head to Cosa on the coast of south western Tuscany. At 113m above sea level, this was once a Roman colony and port with around 250 houses that have been excavated to date as well as temples, city walls and a possible bath complex. Even if you’re not into the history, the location will win you over.
Italy has a fantastic reputation for wine, with Tuscan wine being amongst some of the best in the world. Thanks to the balmy climate and good weather, Chianta is very well renowned among wine experts and the area is definitely worth a visit.
Many of the restaurants or local wine bars will offer you tastings, but I’d recommend heading directly to the wineries themselves where you can see the wine being produced from plant to bottle firsthand. Some wineries will offer tours of their vineyards and wine cellars in addition to guiding you through expert wine tastings. Even if you’re not a fan of tasting the local wine, the vineyards spreading across the undulating hills as far as the eye can see are a pretty spectacular sight.
It’s not too difficult to find your way further afield if you’re staying in Tuscany, and I recommend a trip to Rome. We took a train from a small local station that took us right into the heart of Rome, allowing us a full day to explore there before heading back again.
In just that short space of time in Rome, you can visit the Roman forum, the Colosseum, try some proper Roman food and gelato, visit the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, or just wander the streets of Rome…”when in Rome”!
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